6 Reasons Your Dog Smells Bad


PetMD Editorial

Published Apr. 6, 2016
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6 Reasons Your Dog Smells Bad

By Lynne Miller


No matter how much you love your dog, it is hard to love a dog’s stinky scent, especially if she enjoys rolling in dead animal remains or munching on excrement.


Of course, many odors are not so easily explained or managed.


Whether putrid or pungent, dog smells should be taken seriously since a bad odor may be a sign of a serious disease.


Don’t just wrinkle your nose the next time you get a whiff of your dog.


Here are six reasons why your furry friend smells bad.

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Wet Dog Smell

Have you ever wondered why your dog stinks right after a bath? Microorganisms like yeast and bacteria quietly live in your dog’s fur, and as long as the fur stays dry, there’s little odor, the American Chemical Society explains in this video. When your dog takes a bath or goes for a swim, the water causes the release of stinky compounds. 


“The water molecules have displaced the smaller volatile compounds which are odoriferous,” explains George Preti, a scientist and expert on body odor, based at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. 



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Mouth Odors

Pay attention to changes in your dog’s breath. For example, a foul odor that crops up out of the blue could mean she has an infection.


“The odor of a bad tooth infection is very unpleasant,” says Dr. Laurie Coger, a holistic veterinarian and dog trainer.


Bad breath may also indicate kidney disease or diabetes.


The breath of a dog with kidney failure can smell like urine, or have a metallic odor, says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a staff doctor at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. If this describes your dog’s breath, she should see a vet right away.


“It’s absolutely different than run-of-the-mill bad breath due to bad teeth,” Hohenhaus says.


Late-stage diabetes may also produce a unique scent.


“Without insulin, the body can’t use the food it eats,” Hohenhaus explains.  “A diabetic pet will eat tons of food, but they lose weight like crazy, and can’t use the food that’s digested by the body. They break down their own body for nutrients.”


That generates ketones, which produce a distinctive odor on the breath. Some say it smells like nail polish remover, others think the odor is sweet.


“Once you smell a pet with ketones on the breath, you’ll never forget it,” Hohenhaus says.


If your pet has this symptom, take her to the vet immediately.

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Skin Problems

If you have a Spaniel, Pekingese, Pug, Bulldog, or Shar-Pei, you need to keep an eye on your pet’s skin folds. These dogs are prone to skin fold dermatitis, a stinky skin disorder.


To avoid infection and a foul odor, cleanse your pet’s skin folds on a regular basis.


“Skin fold cleaning is really important in those dogs,” says Coger, who recommends using skin fold cleansers or baby wipes to gently clean the folds.


Any dog can get a skin infection that smells bad if the skin’s normal barriers are broken down by prolonged dampness, allergies, hormonal disorders, etc. Red, inflamed skin could indicate an infection, Coger says. 

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Ear Infections

If your dog’s ears smell like yeast, she probably has—you guessed it—a yeast infection, which is very common in canines. Bacterial ear infections are also a frequent problem for dogs, and they tend to smell worse than yeast infections


Dogs with long, droopy ears are prone to ear problems, which often go hand in hand with allergies. Dogs with allergies tend to have more ear infections, Hohenhaus says.


“You have to treat the ears and you may have to treat the whole dog for an allergy issue,” she says.


You and your dog’s doctor should explore what’s causing the allergy—whether it’s something in your pet’s food, pollen outside or dust mites in the home. 

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Gas Attacks

If your dog’s gas is powerful enough to clear a room, she probably ate something she shouldn’t have. If she’s also having diarrhea and vomiting, she may have eaten something really nasty, like a rotten carcass or something in the trash.


Controlling gas is not always as simple as keeping your dog from scavenging. Sometimes increased flatulence is a sign of a serious health problem, Hohenhaus says.


But assuming your dog’s gas is not related to an underlying health issue, Hohenhaus says a change in diet could cut down on flatulence. The best diet will meet your dog’s individual needs.


Coger believes grain-free diets can make a difference.


“Switching to grain-free diets often improves digestion, leading to less flatulence, smaller and less smelly stools, and fewer ear and skin infections,” she says. 

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Anal Sacs

Also known as anal glands, anal sacs are located on either side of the animal’s anus. The walls of the sacs are lined with glands, and the sacs fill up with a foul-smelling substance. Normally, the dog secretes some of it when she poops.


Dogs with impacted or infected anal sacs will lick their backsides excessively or slide their bottoms on the ground to relieve itchiness, Hohenhaus says. The animals may expel a brown substance that smells far worse than feces.


Your pet’s anal sacs can be manually expressed at the vet’s office, Hohenhaus says. Failing to address impacted anal sacs can lead to abscesses and ruptures.


If your dog suffers from chronic anal sac problems, it could be related to allergies.


“In spring time, when the pollen comes out, you’ll see more animals sliding their butts along the ground,” Hohenhaus says. “It’s a manifestation of allergies. Talk to your veterinarian about allergy management.” 

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Tips for Keeping Your Dog Smelling Good

Regular bathing and grooming can minimize normal funky odors not related to health problems.


Most dogs should be bathed about once a month, Coger says. Dogs with longer coats may require more frequent baths, while pups with short coats may go longer between baths.


Make sure to brush or comb your dog when she’s shedding, since dead hair and skin cells can lead to odor, Coger says.


Waterless shampoos can be helpful between baths, particularly for “spot cleaning,” Coger says. “Breeds with facial folds or long hair that may get food on it can benefit from these products.” 


Used lightly, baby powder, or simple cornstarch, can help absorb odors. “You need to avoid using large amounts that will cake up,” Coger says.